People are living longer thanks to advances in medical science, and this has led to the emergence of a sandwich generation, aged 30 to 60, who need to manage their work-life balance to better cope with caring for their children as well as elderly parents.
The numbers of older people aged 85 and over have increased by a third over the last decade, according to Age UK. In its Health and Care of Older People in England 2017 briefing published in February, experts cite a growing older population as one of the most significant factors behind the rising demand for health and care services in this country.
Employee benefits providers need to move with these changing times. While more employers offer flexible benefits, they must have their finger on the pulse and be more flexible in reflecting employee needs. So says Clare Sheridan, principal of Aon Employee Benefits, who says from her perspective, there is a key benefit largely missing from the flex list; eldercare. There is a demand and she stresses the need for something to be done to support this new generation.
She recalls that the industry began discussing the need to provide eldercare many years back but nothing has really moved on.
Employee Benefits’ annual Benefits Research 2014, found that only 4% of respondents offer eldercare in any form - perhaps flexi-time or an employee assistance programme - as a core benefit and 3% offer it as a voluntary benefit, mainly on an emergency care basis. That was three years ago and there are still relatively few providers in the marketplace, although in relation to emergency and short term care, this does appear to be growing with benefits available from companies like Bright Horizons, My Family Care and Eldercare.
Many companies already offer childcare vouchers which has tax and cost saving benefits for those needing to pay for childcare during parents’ working hours. But, as parents age and their care needs increase, employers need to be able to offer support.
Sheridan suggests the reason that eldercare discussions came to a halt was because the issue is a complicated one. There is a big question mark around what can actually be done around eldercare. She says: “There are sites where you can get information about all aspects of eldercare, but in terms of actual financial support for it, there isn’t anything out there currently”.
The ceiling of assets for people going into care homes has risen and care fees are, for many, prohibitive.
One solution around the costs for private care could be an eldercare voucher which works in a similar way to childcare vouchers. “The tax and savings on the astronomic cost of care homes would be so helpful, obviously with the recent Salary Sacrifice review and the introduction of the Tax Free Childcare Scheme, there is a question mark around the introduction of such a scheme by the Government,” says Sheridan.
Martha How, a principal at Aon Employee Benefits, had an elderly mother to look after who lived 90 miles away and whose care needs grew as her dementia developed.
She says: “I speak from the heart on the impact this had on my life and work. Even though I had support from my sisters, the impact of being responsible was huge on me personally. The emotional toll it takes on families is real and never lets up. We all had different lives, work, children, and, like many siblings, moments between us which were less than harmonious.”
Her mother eventually lost the use of her legs, had a series of chest and urinary infections and she became incapable of living at home independently.
“I remember the stress and sadness my sisters and I felt when convincing her to move into a care home, and I remember trying to find a decent one - it took two attempts before we found one where she stayed for the remainder of her time.”
She says that the stress of it all had impacted her work: “I’m a bit old fashioned and prefer to keep domestic and work life separate. However, it was a relief when the opportunity to reduce my working hours came about.”
Employees want a better work-life balance to help support their caring responsibilities and employers can and should help, perhaps through flexible hours.
Sheridan concludes: “The whole premise of benefits is that employees are people and so benefits providers are looking at the issues that people face on a day-to-day basis.”